How to identify recruiter skills gaps & inject energy into a team

“Do you come here often?”

“Can I buy you a drink?”

“Do you want to dance?”

“Can I have your number?”

What answers normally follow these questions? Whether you get an air punching YES or a heart dropping NO these are usually the two options offered that follow a closed question.

When closed questions are your best friends

  • To clarify information
  • Closing a sale using ‘yes sets’ technique
  • To close down a waffler that is chatting too much
  • To gain closure for something
  • When you want a one worded answer

It is very common (extremely) for recruiters to reward themselves when dealing with reluctant to talk client/candidate with lots of lovely questions — closed questions that close the conversation down further and leaving the recruiter looking like a rabbit in the headlights and wanting to get off the phone ASAP. That experience can feel uncomfortable and negative.

Negativity and flatness isn’t a good mixture when trying to influence someone. If the recruiter isn’t aware of their questioning pitfalls how do they know to change?

Closed questions are a major contributor to a slow sales cycle and client/candidate reluctance to work with the recruiter. It also has a major part to play in low morale in the recruiter when they don’t make deals.

Having regular quick fun bursts of training activity keeps teams on their toes and supports sharing of ideas when dealing with challenging conversations.

Sales games and energisers

Below are two ideas that can help identify skill gaps in the recruiter and inject energy into a team. People in any job can work more effectively with energy, new ideas and a positive team ethos.

You can use some fast, fun and quick to think exercises that highlight habits the recruiter has adopted and gets them self-correcting quickly. Since electric shock treatment is frowned upon… here are some legal creative ways to train recruiters and other client/candidate-facing-roles in the company.

Idea 1: The self-correcting buzzer


A really effective way to highlight habits to a recruiter is through sound.

Whilst role-playing, every time a closed question is asked in the wrong place press the buzzer so they are aware a closed question has been asked. They are then required to reconstruct the question in a more effective way. In other words — they need to open it. It is amazing how quickly recruiters start to hear their own closed questions and self-correct before anyone has the chance to buzz them.

When they move onto live conversations best to use a silent buzzer (take the batteries out) so the noise doesn’t put the recruiter off and so the client/candidate doesn’t think a kid’s party is going on! Make notes of the question they asked to use during the call debrief. If you have playback facility on calls – play the closed question back and stay silent whilst the recruiter jumps in to self-correct.

Idea 2: Keep your eyes on the prize!


For more competitive cultures, a great high energy exercise is to bring the sales team together and split people into two lines standing side by side.

Mark an envelope with the words “Mystery Prizes” and place it at the other end of the room facing them. In the space between the envelope and the two lines make a post it note path that the recruiter has to follow that takes them to the prize (stick to the floor 5 post it notes in a row in the space between the people and the prize).

How to run the exercise:

The objective of the game is to ask open and probing questions that uncover client/candidate needs rather than the basic questions that every other recruiter asks.

  • The team will be lining up in their lines. The person standing next to them is the person they are competing against so be mindful where people stand. You don’t want the most effective recruiter next to the new person with little skill.
  • The manager is to play the grumpy client/candidate on the phone. The first pair take it in turn to ask a question as if they are on the phone to the grumpy client/candidate. Each pair take it in turns to ask questions to ascertain by business/candidate drivers. Each time a recruiter asks open probing question that gains vital information they move forward to the next post it note.
  • If they ask a closed question they stay where they are. When a closed question is asked to add more fun to the game I often give the other team the opportunity to open the question for an extra move. Keep the game fast and furious to keep everyone on their toes. The first person to reach the prize is the winner.

This game also works well for handling objections. Same principle, but at the starting point each pair are given an objection such as “You’re too expensive” then each person needs to ask a probing open question to explore and overcome the objections.

The mystery prizes needs to be meaningful for the recruiters and doesn’t have to cost lots of money. Prize ideas:

  • The chance to go home one hour early/come in an hour late
  • If parking spaces are limited — a parking space for the day
  • Tea and coffee runners — the winning person has to nominate a senior person to make the teas and coffees for a day
  • The office trophy for a day (trophies/plaques that have engraved messages such as “champion of the day”) and their picture goes on the “winners” board for the day
  • A meal on the company
  • Chocolates
  • Wine/Beer (please be mindful of religious beliefs)

Sales coaching and training is critical both financially and mentally for both the individuals attending and the organisation. Mixing normal training traditions can make it more memorable for the recruiter which in turn will stay in their mind longer encouraging a faster transfer of skills. Can you afford not to do it?

Sarah Church

Sarah Church is a Managing Director at Fifth Element Solutions and manages the Learning and Development service line. Her highly motivational down-to-earth training approach means participants are easily able to apply the learning to their unique environment. Using real life practical methodology it maximises the participants and their organisations time and money investment. Sarah has been in the recruitment world for over 17 years’. She started her career developing highly successful Contract/Temporary and Permanent desks and was quickly promoted to Sales and Development Manager where key responsibilities included developing long-term business relationships with new key clients. During her experience Sarah was tasked with turning around underperforming recruitment business making a financial loss into profit making centres. Reviewing, coaching, mentoring, and advising managers and their staff on how to adapt best practice and processes to ensure the avoided closure. Her philosophy in business is “If things don’t go right, turn left”.

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